Thursday, March 22, 2018

Facing the very real possibility of my imminent and early death

I have been struggling with this blogpost for over a month now, ever since I got the idea of writing a blogpost about this topic. Goes to show how difficult of a topic this is to process. 

There may be people who can wax lyrical about the possibility of their own upcoming demise. I am not one of them. I am finding it very hard to put into words all the thoughts and hopes and concerns and worries I have around the very real possibility that I could be dead in a few months/years.

First of all, I just finished running a marathon with a decent finish time, and am supposedly at the pinnacle of good physical health. So why - at this time - am I talking about my death? 

It is because what I have is Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) - an aggressive form of brain tumor - which could at any time in the next few months/years trigger multiple recurrences - one after the other or simultaneously - of the brain tumor and lead to my death.

GBM is casually associated with sentences like "glioblastomas are usually fatal within two years with treatment, and often within weeks without treatment". Everyone who has been diagnosed with GBM eventually dies (in a matter of 2-3 years) - Senator Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden's son Beau BidenCanadian Rocker Gord Downie, my friend Ron Clanton, and more.


Besides, having been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and being informed about it, the threat of impending death never really goes away from the forefront of one's mind. 

In fact, the very reason why I took on the challenge of running the Los Angeles Marathon - and plan to run many more marathons in the future - is as a step towards defeating the cancer. This blogpost is required at the very least to elaborate on the thinking process that led to this personal decision.

I first realized the hopelessness and severity of my condition a few weeks after my brain surgery when I met with an Oncologist who explained the diagnosis to me. When I left the hospital 2 days after the surgery, the nursing staff had given me false hopes & assurances by telling me that the tumor was benign and non-cancerous. Reading up about GBM online to learn more about it over the next few days confirmed the dire prognosis. 

However, I found it easy at that time to forget about all the bad things that could happen. All I had to do was focus on my daily life, work, make plans around my running, etc. Life went on brushing aside the worst fears.

I got hit again severely with the fear of impending death on reading about Gord Downie's death in October 2017. In my opinion, he - as a rockstar - had access to the best of treatments for his ailments, and if that didn't save him, there wasn't much hope for me.

Even that time, I brushed aside the fears and moved on with life very easily by getting myself busy with mundane stuff in daily life.

The incident that really drove home the point that I could be dead in a few months/years happened in early January 2018, when I read about the death of Chad Peacock.
There is a lot to unpack around this incident. 

I did not know of Chad Peacock till I read about his death. 

Going through his blog in detail and learning about the specifics of his situation made me realize that the hopes I had of successfully surviving GBM for years were based on false foundations. Chad was 3 years younger than me. Very physically fit. A runner. Dealt with his cancer with a very positive attitude. And yet he died from complications around GBM after a 6 year battle which included 6 brain surgeries. 

I had built up hopes of surviving GBM because of my relatively young age plus the very positive attitude I was bringing into the situation. The positive aspect of my relatively young age was over-emphasized by many in the medical profession.

Realizing all that could not save me from the fate of an early death, broke my false confidence and made me realize for the first time that I could be dead in a matter of months/years. 

The fact that Chad required 6 brain surgeries to survive 6 years was also a downer. Did not bode well for the immediate future I was walking into.

The sense of hopelessness engendered by that incident played a big role in me experiencing my first seizure a few days later.

The lesson I took on from the seizure incident was as follows:
Having a fear that I could die soon could act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is all well & good to be wary of false hopes while dealing with a terminal cancer, but having hope that I can survive - even if it is false - is better than not having any hope at all.
Ever since the seizure incident, I have been working towards rebuilding my confidence that I will survive GBM, this time armed with facts, and real research, and experiences of long-time survivors of GBM/other terminal cancers. And making big and small changes in my diet & life-style to incorporate what I learned in this effort into my life.

I have also realized that working with the assumption that I could die soon is the best way to deal with a terminal cancer.

If that assumption turns out to be false, GREAT! I live long and everyone is happy!

Keeping early death as an outcome on one side makes it easy to make huge changes like dropping sugar & refined grains completely from the diet, or take on the goal of turning from a 5+ hour marathoner to a Boston Qualifier (3h20m marathon finisher) over few years.

I will continue elaborating on this topic with a few more blogposts in the coming days; a few of the titles I have in mind are as follows:


  1. Were you a runner before you were diagnosed with cancer?

    1. Yes. I have been a runner since 2006, and was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

  2. I am honored to know and be known by you.


The story so far

It has been a month since I decided to start a blog to journal my journey with Glioblastoma Multiforme after bei...